For decades, United Airlines has sponsored the USA Olympic and Paralympic teams. But after the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, United will no longer be an official sponsor. Instead, Delta will.
The Los Angeles Times reports that the 2028 Sumer Olympics in Los Angeles just landed Delta as a sponsor. Although Delta has not officially confirmed the deal, it is thought to be worth $400 million, which is huge but still a small fraction of the $7 billion it will cost to host the games in Los Angeles. The sponsorship will run through 2028.
Meanwhile, United has elected not to renew is sponsorship. A United spokesperson glossed over the future, instead focusing on the past and present:
“United Airlines has enjoyed a longstanding partnership with Team USA athletes for nearly four decades and we are excited for the Tokyo Games later this summer. Even after our sponsorship ends, we look forward to cheering proudly for our athletes and their unwavering competitive spirit for years to come.”
But in a note to employees shared with Live and Let’s Fly by an insider, United is looking toward a different focus in the future:
Over the last 40 years, United has proudly sponsored Team USA Olympic and Paralympic athletes as part of our long-standing partnership with the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC).
While the partnership will remain through the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, United elected in 2019 not to pursue a renewed sponsorship agreement with the USOPC moving forward. Instead, we will focus on investing in our employees as well as initiatives that will improve the customer experience.
Even after our sponsorship ends, we look forward to cheering proudly for our athletes and their unwavering competitive spirit for years to come.
United won’t comment now on what those improvements to the customer experience or investment in employees are, but it is an interesting rationale considering United initially dropped $70 million for naming rights to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (before protest from Angelenos who did not want the Coliseum “commercialized”, leading to an undisclosed settlement to name it “United Airlines Field at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum”). I bring that up because it arguably had a far lower return on investment than associating United with Team USA in promotions around the world.
Frankly, I’d rather see $400MN invested in the onboard product and in employees than in the US Olympics. I’m not a marketing major, but it seems to me meaningfully improving the customer experience will win a lot more loyalty than affixing the United logo to the USA Olympic team. $400MN can go a long way…